Britain’s first space launch failed to launch satellites into orbit

Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, home to Catapult satellite applications

Britain’s first rocket to carry satellites into space – including one built in Didcot – suffered an anomaly that ended its mission.

At around 11:45 p.m. yesterday (January 9), Virgin Orbit, the company responsible for the LauncherOne rocket that aimed to launch nine satellites into space, tweeted: “Looks like we have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit.”

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The plane, a modified Boeing 747-400 dubbed “Cosmic Girl” that carried a rocket under its wings, took off from Spaceport Cornwall and flew about 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean to launch the rocket.

Crowds gathered at the spaceport to watch the launch and witness a historic moment, but when they heard that there was a problem, a collective groan filled the air.

One of the satellites to be launched into space – a terrorism tracking satellite built to track ships to combat terrorism, smuggling and piracy called AMBER – is the result of a partnership between Didcot-based Satellite Applications Catapult and London-based Horizon Technologies .

Speaking to the BBC after the failed orbit attempt, Melissa Thorpe, head of UK Spaceport, said: “We’ve put so much into it, everyone has and we’re like a big family. So it absolutely sucks.

“Virgin will go deep into the data.”

She said she was pleased with the functioning of the spaceport and that it showed the potential of the UK space industry.

“The airport was amazing and the operational side went completely as planned.

“So we’re just here to support, you know, get a Virgin backup and bring another rocket here.

“We’re enabling access to space, and well, we did it today. It’s a huge win to show we can do it here. “

UK space agency launch program director Matt Archer also told reporters in Newquay he was disappointed but proud of what the mission had achieved.

Among the satellites transferred were Prometheus-2, a pair of satellites equipped with hyperspectral cameras; cameras that observe the earth’s surface at different wavelengths of light.

There was also Dover, a satellite that will test a novel way to deliver precise timing information from space, and ForgeStar-0, the first ever Welsh satellite, which will test key technologies for a potential set of mini-factories that would create novel materials in space.

Virgin Orbit shares fell after the anomaly was announced, with shares down nearly a third – a loss of over £160m.

Despite the failure, this launch was a historic moment as previously British manufactured satellites had been sent to overseas facilities to get into space.

It was also the first time satellites were launched from Europe.

This story was written by Matthew Norman, who joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from different communities.

Please contact him by emailing

Follow him on Twitter: @OxMailMattN1

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